Close up image of a caretaker helping older woman walk

At the end of a long shift on Christmas Eve, two CNAs are chatting in the facility parking lot. “Rough day,” says one. “A family member yelled at me about problems I can’t solve and things that aren’t remotely my fault.”

“True,” says the other. “But it could have been far worse. At least you’re not a ticket agent for Southwest Airlines.”

Our long-term care staff have taxing, difficult jobs, within a profession that constantly struggles against forces it can’t control. But for one week at least, they could look at the airline industry and feel grateful for the relative serenity of life in a skilled nursing facility. 

Don’t judge me, but I happened to be catching a flight very early one morning recently in the midst of all the holiday chaos, and stopped by an airport bar looking for a Bloody Mary. The harried waitperson patiently explained why that absolutely couldn’t happen at 4:25 a.m. State law, or some dumb reason like that. But she was so absolutely cheerful and disarming about it, I swallowed the catty remark poised on the tip of my tongue, and ordered breakfast instead. 

For the next hour, her energy and positivity was irresistible to everyone she served. Like me, most of her customers were already in a foul mood, but she deftly neutralized our negativity. As I paid my bill and told her how fantastic she was, a couple of ladies seated nearby chorused, “Oh, yes, isn’t she great?” They were obviously regulars. At the airport. I’m not even sure they were flying anywhere. They just enjoyed her company and service.

On the same trip, as I waited for my flight with bedlam unfolding throughout the terminal, I witnessed a little moment that seemed frozen in the eye of the hurricane. A distraught parent approached with a fearful and tearful child who would be traveling alone for the first time. The beleaguered gate agent, in the midst of all the madness around her, took the time to get down on her level, kneeling with a genuine sparkle in her eye, and said, “You’re going to see your dad? Are you so excited?” The child’s eyes brightened as she nodded shyly, and the two walked happily down the jetway together. 

Poise and positivity in the midst of chaos — it’s something to be constantly celebrated, and within long-term care it doesn’t take a nationwide transportation crisis to bring out the best in our people — they do it every day. We all know residents and staff who possess an inexhaustible well of positivity and grace, and how they manage to maintain it has always been an unimaginable mystery to me. 

That’s because we also know many of their back stories, and life often hasn’t been easy, to say the least. Some of the greatest people I’ve met in this profession have suffered through the worst possible misfortunes in their personal lives, and if anyone deserves to have a bad attitude and sometimes treat people poorly, it’s them. But they don’t. Ever. And I stand in awe of folks like that.

So here at the start of 2023, maybe that should be one of our top priority resolutions: to notice them, to emulate them, and to thank them as publicly and profusely as possible. Even when they won’t bring you a Bloody Mary at 4:25 a.m.

Things I Think is written by Gary Tetz, a two-time national Silver Medalist and three-time regional Gold and Silver Medal winner in the Association of Business Press Editors (ASBPE) awards program, as well as an Award of Excellence honoree in the APEX Awards. He’s been amusing, inspiring, informing and sometimes befuddling long-term care readers worldwide since the end of a previous century. He is a writer and video producer for Consonus Healthcare Services in Portland, OR.

The opinions expressed in McKnight’s Long-Term Care News guest submissions are the author’s and are not necessarily those of McKnight’s Long-Term Care News or its editors.